CableLabs Specs Broadband Wiretaps

CableLabs has issued a set of "safe harbor" specs that will help cable operators assist law enforcement agencies perform court-authorized surveillance of high-speed broadband connections, down to the level of which Websites individuals are visiting and what kind of files they are downloading.

Under the 1994 Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA), communications service providers are mandated to assist in lawful wiretapping for IP voice and broadband services.

The new CableLabs release, dubbed the Cable Broadband Intercept Specification (CBIS), is now a member of the larger family of Docsis specifications.

According to documentation released Tuesday, CBIS defines the interfaces between a cable operator's Docsis network and the authorized Law Enforcement Agency (LEA). If required, those interfaces will assist the LEA in performing lawful surveillance on a targeted user's broadband connection.

The first version of CBIS is directed toward network elements using IPv4 only. Future releases of the spec may address IPv6 or a hybrid system that supports both addressing schemes. Multicast and IPTV apps "are to be evaluated for further study," according to the specs.

CableLabs undertook the broadband surveillance effort after the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued an order in May 2006 holding that broadband data communications services, in addition to VOIP services, fell within the scope of the CALEA mandate.

The order covered "facilities-based" broadband ISPs and "interconnected" VOIP service providers, which, among other things, include any service that permits users to receive or terminate calls via the public switched telephone network (PSTN). If found out of compliance, service providers under that definition face a fine of $10,000 per day until compliance is reached.

CBIS is considered "safe harbor," meaning MSOs that comply with it -- either through a home-grown implementation or one developed with a trusted third party -- are deemed to be CALEA compliant. That safe harbor designation could be removed only if a body such as the Department of Justice or the Federal Bureau of Investigation intervenes, according to CableLabs' deputy general counsel Simon Krauss.

The chances of that happening appear to be remote, considering the fact the FBI gave its blessing to CBIS in a statement issued late Tuesday afternoon:

"This technical specification is an important milestone in the cable industry's efforts to effectively address court-authorized law enforcement concerns," said FBI assistant director Marcus Thomas, who oversees the agency's CALEA implementation efforts. "Law enforcement must be able to protect the safety and security of the American public from criminals, spies, and terrorists who misuse the cable broadband communication access services to perpetrate their crimes."

CBIS marks the second initiative from CableLabs to support CALEA safe harbor. In July 2004, the Louisville, Colo.-based R&D house issued a similar spec for digital voice services based on the PacketCable architecture.

The new specs will provide cable operators with a "uniform means" for supporting the multiple facets of the CALEA mandate, Krauss said.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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